Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Characters Who Do Not Read

Have you noticed this, too?

How, in most YA books, the main character doesn't really...read?

Maybe they read for school, or connect their lives to a famous piece of literature of which the act of reading doesn't need to be described because, duh, everyone knows Romeo and Juliet or gets the gist of Pride and Prejudice. Maybe the main character must read stacks of books on ancient sorcery or computer programming because the skill attained will be essential to the plot. But very few book characters read books like the ones they happen to live in.

I suppose this makes some sense--the act of reading, unless setting up a character's appearance or serving as a cover activity for an espionage mission, isn't very exciting because the real action happens inside the mind. "She turned the page...the ink letters informed her that a friend once thought trustworthy had actually betrayed the central character in the story...images flashed across her mind...the ink letters indicated strong dialogue between the fictional people in the story!..." (By the way, what would fictional characters in a fictional story be? Fictional once removed?)

Also, characters that love, love, love! to read teeter quite close to falling into the character trap of the starry-eyed, fresh-faced Belle clutching an armload of books and hurrying home to tend to dear, eccentric Papa before settling down with a warm cup of tea and her favorite dog-eared paperback. Yeah. Been there, done that. And besides, even Belle dropped the books when she met Beast and some real action began.

The biggest reason, though, characters never seem to read that much is--I believe--that then those characters are in danger of becoming autobiographical. For example, I love to read. If my character also puts "reading" as one of her top Facebook activities, it might lead to listing her favorite stories, which would probably be my favorite stories, and then connecting to her favorite characters, which would be my favorite characters, and not only does this start to resemble a painting within a painting within a painting, it also strays from the plot I want to write. I'm not sitting at my computer for hours typing my life's story--that'd be called a diary (and besides, I'm horrible at diaries). My main characters are not me, and my favorite books are so much a reflection of who I am that devoting precious detail to that part of my character's life better have a higher purpose with drastically different tastes than me to work.

That being said, there are, of course, the literate side characters--the token bookworm characters that have read everything, and these can be used for comedic relief and funny nods of the metaphorical head to those who've dissected Macbeth in tenth grade honors English. These characters are supposed to read. Have at it.

What are your opinions on reading within reading?